Used in herbal medicine as supportive therapy for the promotion of healthy glucose levels, to help support cognitive function and/or reduce mental fatigue, and to help enhance physical performance.
Ginseng has been called the “king of herbs” in China. It has been revered there for some 7 000 years for its ability to boost failing energy levels in people who have been weakened by serious or chronic illness, and to restore vitality in the elderly. The first Chinese emperor offered soldiers the same weight of silver as the wild ginseng they brought him.
Panax ginseng is a deciduous perennial shrub whose fleshy root requires 4–6 years of cultivation to reach maturity. Traditionally, the wild root was consumed to vitalize, strengthen, and rejuvenate the entire body. Widely cultivated, ginseng is now used as a natural preventive, restorative remedy and is valued for its adaptogenic properties. Panax ginseng is more stimulating and increases the “yang” energy, while American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) increases the “yin” energy. Panax ginseng is most suitable for males and older people.
The main active ingredients of ginseng are the more than 20 saponin triterpenoid glycosides called ginsenosides, whose names relate to their chromatographic position (Ra, Rb, etc.). The Rb1 group of ginsenosides have more sedative and metabolic effects on the central nervous system (CNS), while the Rg1 group of ginsenosides are more arousing and stimulating at low doses. Rb1 ginsenosides have CNS-depressing activity, have weak anti-inflammatory action, and increase digestive tract peristalsis. Other studies have shown that Rb1 ginsenosides also are anticonvulsant, antipyretic, antipsychotic, analgesic, and ulcer-protective. These activities contrast with those of Rg1 ginsenosides, which have weak CNS-stimulating activity, protect against fatigue, and cause an increase in motor activity. Panax ginseng contains higher amounts of the more stimulating Rg1 ginsenosides compared to American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), which has a higher amount of the more sedative Rb1 ginsenosides. Both Rg1 and Rb1 ginsenosides act on the adrenal and pituitary glands and help them respond to stress more rapidly.
As an adaptogen or general tonic, it is antistress and antifatigue, restores vigour, increases resistance to infections, is a slight CNS stimulant, increases mental and physical work capacity, increases concentration and mental activity, enhances mental acuity and intellectual performance, improves physical performance, is an immunoregulator (mainly immunostimulant), promotes appetite, is an antioxidant, increases reaction times, lowers blood cholesterol, protects against radiation, regulates adrenal glands, and helps prevent exhaustion.
Panax ginseng is used for conditions of tiredness, weakness, debility, convalescence, low resistance, aging, stress, poor metabolism, and lack of concentration. Ginseng extracts have been shown to have antioxidant activity and to protect against radiation damage. European clinical trials with ginseng have found an increase in reaction time, alertness, concentration, and visual and motor coordination.